The hidden secret of most businesses is that the more boring the business, the better the business—the flashier, the worse. This heuristic is especially true in the consumer goods landscape, where brands run the hazard of seeking attention over sales.

Within the consumer products space, the concept takes on further meaning when it comes to what are called core-based businesses. The idea is that a core group of products—which are usually in stock and barely change with the seasons—will drive a significant amount of consistent revenue for the company, while its more seasonal offerings will help drive voluminous attention, but only provide incremental sales. Even fast-fashion players such as Zara—which sometimes brings in new trends and throws them out in as little as a week—have core products, whether it’s denim or white t-shirts.

Many traditional brands, including Gap, Banana Republic, Levis, J.Crew and Ralph Lauren, had basics at the center of their businesses. Yet as these companies failed to update their offerings across the board—especially during the internet’s ascent—the differentiation that average-quality basics once provided washed away. At the same time, fast fashion, in particular, created enough competition to erode the core value proposition of basics brands. Before fast fashion, it used to be unaffordable to get on-trend style, but given its abundance, many people now prefer to buy something on-trend rather than something generic if they have the same amount of money in their hand.

Fast forward to 2008 and beyond—many of the digitally-native and direct-to-consumer brands, including Bonobos, Everlane, Allbirds and Casper, are claiming to reinvent the basics brand, with core and generic products at the center of their entire offering. Many focused on lowering the price of their goods without the need for wholesale, while simplifying design and pricing with a private-label like mentality.

But today this value proposition is a commodity. Everyone can offer basics at reasonable prices. This raises the question: Why are entrepreneurs still trying to build these businesses? The value proposition of basics brands fell apart in the first decade of this century because of fast fashion and the traditional moats for these brands—building a good brand, crafting good-enough product and distributing it widely and efficiently—are no longer defensible.

Two questions remain:

  1. What will happen to all of these basics brands?
  2. Is it worth building new basics brands?

To the first question, it’s hard to see how these brands will ever escape the race to the bottom in which they are currently entangled. Playing the basics brand game is a losing game today, driven by price and little else.

To the second question, it’s unclear if there is any reason to build a basics brand today. The value proposition has been exhausted, and if contemporary shoppers have anything, it’s an abundance of choice at an array of price points.

The paradox of consumer products right now is that neither building something for everyone nor building something for a specific audience is a recipe for success—especially if you raise money from investors. The balance, however, is found in building something specific enough to get early traction, but scalable and flexible enough to grow with new audiences and trends.

This is the only game left for brands to play. It requires leaving basics behind.